WorldFest: Wild, Mild and Wicked

Moviegoers may find both their Sixth Happiness and Seventh Heaven in these 40 featured indie films

Naturally Native Saturday, April 10, at 3 p.m. and Monday, April 12, at 9 p.m.

Seasons to Savor
Opening night could scarcely be stronger for WorldFest. Vietnamese-American filmmaker Tony Bui will be on hand for the screening of his ravishing Three Seasons, which is apparently the first United States film to be shot entirely in Vietnam. The Bui-WorldFest connection is a strong one. Two years ago, he took to honors in the festival's short-subject competition (his first prize anywhere). That short, Yellow Lotus, blossomed into Three Seasons, his first feature.

Shot in and around Ho Chi Minh City, Three Seasons interweaves four stories, beginning with that of a Vietnamese woman who picks lotus blossoms in an area pond and later sells them downtown. She sings as she works, and one day the Teacher, the mysterious owner of the blossom pond, calls her into his forbidding home and tells her that her singing has reawakened memories of his childhood. This is particularly poignant for him, as he's about to die of leprosy. His fingers have fallen off, so he can no longer write his lyric poetry. The young woman volunteers to be his surrogate fingers and to copy down the poems he has continued composing in his head. In doing so, she gives the Teacher a last taste of life before he shuffles off the mortal coil.

The other stories are redemption tales as well. Harvey Keitel is on hand as a veteran of the war who has come back to Saigon in search of the daughter he has never met. Another story has a cyclo (a sort of rickshaw) driver winning back the soul of an embittered prostitute. And, finally, there's the street kid who can't come in out of the rain until he finds the crate full of trinkets that has been stolen from him.

Not all of the stories get resolved with equal grace. The Keitel strand, for example, is left slightly dangling. But in the film's moral simplicity and its aching beauty (Lisa Rinzler is a cinematographer to remember), Three Seasons is that rarest of treats: the unexpected masterpiece. (David Theis)

Three Seasons Friday, April 9, at 7 p.m.

Paulina's Pain
Like The Sixth Happiness, Paulina is the kind of film that really needs a festival. An engrossing combination of fiction and documentary, it opens with an actress playing Paulina Cruz Suarez, who in real life was the Mexico City maid to director Vicky Funari's family. As Paulina sinks her choppers into a man's hand as he tries to molest her during a bus ride home -- and as she remembers how her mother advised her to visit the dentist to keep her teeth strong for just such occasions -- the actress morphs into the real Paulina.

The film then becomes a journey down a dark memory lane, as Paulina remembers her early exposure to the perfidy of men. When she was just a nine-year-old, the village strongman was already coming on to her. When an otherwise innocent childhood fall ruptured her hymen, her family announced that she had been raped by the strongman. Everybody believed them, and just like that Paulina became an outcast: a woman. She was rejected at school "because now she was a woman, not a girl," and the strongman's wife taunted her by asking how she'd liked her husband's great big chili, which made Paulina's mother burst into laughter.

Director Funari and Paulina take unflinching looks at Paulina's humiliation as a "woman," and her coming to strength as a woman. This film is also an unusually powerful portrayal of rural Mexican society. (David Theis)

Paulina Saturday, April 10, at 5 p.m. and Monday, April 12, at 9 p.m.

Sheer Happiness
The Sixth Happiness starts out as an Indian version of My Left Foot. Taken from Firdaus Kanga's novel Trying to Grow, the movie also stars the writer. It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the role of Brit (short for both brittle and British), a Bombay boy who grows up misshapen both by "brittle bone disease" and by his middle-class Parsi family's love of all things British.

The disease has made a dwarf of Brit, and his bones break at the slightest provocation. His handicaps inspire love in his mother, who is Anglophile number one -- she's thrilled by Bangladesh's war of separation, as it allows her family to huddle in the basement and imagine the Battle of Britain is raging overhead. But they repel his father, who is humiliated by the sight of his son. Brit's sister is a lovely character who adores her brother even more than she loves spouting Shakespeare. As a Parsi, she's allowed to marry for love, but woe to the suitor that comes for her hand without boning up on the Bard.

Brit is swept off his feet by Cyrus (since Brit looks like he weighs 40 pounds, this isn't much of a physical claim), who has abandoned the demands of the violin and now wants to simply hang out as the family's boarder. Brit also has a lovely and empowering teacher, who overcame the "handicap of poverty" to study in Oxford and at the Sorbonne. She encourages Brit to write, though the film doesn't make very much of his artistic endeavors.

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